Thomas Sprague

Tommy Sprague

Assistant Professor

Research Area

Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience


Thomas (Tommy) Sprague received his BA in Cognitive Sciences from Rice University in Houston, TX in 2010 and his PhD in Neurosciences with a Specialization in Computational Neurosciences from the University of California, San Diego in 2016. His graduate work with John Serences sought to develop and apply novel multivariate analysis methods to human neuroimaging techniques to understand how neural systems represent information in support of dynamic behavioral goals. Prior to joining the faculty at UCSB, Dr. Sprague worked as a postdoctoral fellowship with Clayton Curtis and Wei Ji Ma studying how neural systems represent both the contents of visual working memory, but also their ‘uncertainty’, by building new multivariate analysis methods.


We often encounter the same scene (say, the inside of your refrigerator) with different behavioral goals (pouring a glass of water or finding a piece of cake). My lab is interested in how the actions we wish to perform impact neural representations of the world. When you’re looking for a piece of cake, how does that change the representation of the other items in the refrigerator? How well can you remember the color of the pitcher, or the location of the soda can, when you close the door? My lab combines computational neuroimaging (fMRI; EEG), behavioral testing (psychophysics; eyetracking), and model-based analysis techniques (voxel-wise modeling; inverted encoding models) to shed light on how brain networks support and constrain our ability to represent information about our environment. Because of its ease of access to contemporary noninvasive neuroimaging tools, we use the visual system as a model system for evaluating neural representations and testing hypotheses about neural information processing.

Selected Publications

*Itthipuripat, S., *Sprague, T.C., and Serences, J.T. (Submitted). Reconciling fMRI and EEG indices of attentional modulations in human visual cortex. (*equal contribution). (Preprint:

Sprague, T.C., *Adam, K.C.S., *Foster, J.J., *Rahmati, M., *Sutterer, D.W., and *Vo, V.A. (2018). Inverted encoding models assay population-level stimulus representations, not single-unit neural tuning. Peer-reviewed commentary on “Inverted encoding models of human population response conflate noise and neural tuning width” by Liu, Cable & Gardner, 2018 (*equal contribution, listed alphabetically). eNeuro.

Sprague, T.C., Itthipuripat, S., Vo, V.A., and Serences, J.T. (2018). Dissociable signatures of visual salience and behavioral relevance across attentional priority maps in human cortex. Journal of Neurophysiology. (Data & code available at:

Vo, VA., Sprague, T.C., and Serences, J.T. (2017). Spatial tuning shifts increase the discriminability and fidelity of population codes in visual cortex. Journal of Neuroscience. (Data & code available at:

Sprague, T.C., Ester, E.F., and Serences, J.T. (2016). Restoring latent visual working memory representations in human cortex. Neuron. (Data & code available at:

*Ester, E.F., *Rademaker, R.L. and *Sprague, T.C. (2016). How do visual and parietal cortex contribute to visual short-term memory? Peer-reviewed commentary on “Decoding the content of visual short-term memory under distraction in occipital and parietal areas” by Bettencourt & Xu, 2016 (*equal contribution, listed alphabetically). eNeuro.

Samaha, J., Sprague, T.C., and Postle, B.R. (2016). Decoding and reconstructing the focus of spatial attention from the topography of alpha-band oscillations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Ester, E.F., Sprague, T.C., and Serences, J.T. (2015). Parietal and frontal cortex encode stimulus-specific mnemonic representations during visual working memory. Neuron.

Sprague, T.C., Saproo, S. and Serences, J.T. (2015). Attention mitigates information loss in small- and large-scale neural codes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. (Tutorials & sample data available at:

Sprague, T.C. and Serences, J.T. (2015). Using human neuroimaging to examine top-down modulations of visual perception. An Introduction to Model-based Cognitive Neuroscience, eds. Birte Forstmann & E-J Wagenmakers.

Sprague, T.C., Ester, E.F. and Serences, J.T. (2014). Reconstructions of information in visual spatial working memory degrade with memory load. Current Biology.

Itthipuripat S., Garcia, J.O., Rungratsameetaweemana, N. Sprague, T.C., Serences, J.T. (2014). Changing the spatial scope of attention alters the pattern of neural gain in human cortex. Journal of Neuroscience.

Sprague, T.C. and Serences, J.T. (2013). Attention modulates spatial priority maps in human occipital, parietal and frontal cortices. Nature Neuroscience.